On any given night you will find Wildwood Tavern overflowing with a crowd of young professionals, artists, musicians, and designers grabbing a drink and sitting down for good conversation until late into the evening on East Mobile Street in downtown Florence. Childhood friends Matt Henderson and Tyler Ross left the Shoals for college, only to return to their roots to open up the popular Chicago Café three years ago, and just one year ago, Wildwood Tavern—a bar that is both laid-back and filled with life. The two owners, born and raised in Florence, are devoted to “Keep Florence Funky” – a fun phrase they coined to encourage local residents to embrace and continue to create the soulful style that first put The Shoals on the map—an approach that is apparent in their unique décor, original recipes, and their love for the local community.
The funky attitude begins as soon as you walk through the doors of Wildwood Tavern. The rustic space decorated with colorful, pendant lighting, which hang in various shapes from the ceiling lined with pallet boards, feels warm and inviting—an easy place to meet up with friends or make some new ones. Covering the walls are unique paintings of hotdogs, a nod to their menu, which serves a variety of flavorful hotdog creations. Under the quirky artwork are plenty of seating, including booths and bar stools lined across a wooden bar with tree trunks posts, while shuffleboard and a jukebox sit along the exposed brick walls. This relaxed atmosphere encourages laughter and good conversation, an easy place to unwind at the end of a long workday.
The unique venue also serves inventive food creations that include gourmet hotdogs, flatbread pizzas, sandwiches, and baked pastas. These aren’t your typical backyard barbeque hotdogs—but are gourmet and imaginative with delicious ingredients that will please everyone’s taste buds. On the menu you will find a variety of options including The Sweet Heat Dog, which includes house sriracha mayo, Alabama sweet banana peppers, and cajun spices or The Dixie Dog with southern bbq sauce, toated cheddar cheese, grilled onions, and spices. The fun twist on favorite foods are what have set this restaurant apart and have kept the booths and bar filled with familiar faces. An equal amount of thought has gone into the bar menu, which focuses primarily on craft beer. They try to never have the same thing twice on tap in a six-month span and strive to keep a variety of beers that range from a hoppy IPA to a Stout. The bar is fully stocked, with a focus on whiskey, scotch, and bourbon—but the staff has fun creating seasonal cocktails as well.
Their fun and thoughtful approach to both their drink and food menu is for a community who loves to have a good time, and they make sure to entertain every chance they get. Just recently they celebrated Mardi Gras and will be a part of the St. Patrick’s Day pub crawl on March 17th, as well as a Cinco de Mayo celebration. For each occasion they have several different drink specials, a dollar off draft beer, a specialty cocktail menu, and a brand-new jukebox playlist to add to the theme. But even if there isn’t a holiday around the corner, they still have plenty of things to look forward to. The last Thursday of every month there is a Tap Takeover, where they work with one brewery to fill up the entire tap wall. There's also tons of free merchandise and participants learn all about the beer they are drinking. First Fridays are also starting back up in March and Wildwood Tavern has the perfect location. With their outdoor patio offering a front row seat to the band stage, it’s an ideal spot to relax with friends, enjoy a drink, and listen to live music.
Both Tyler and Matt agreed that moving back to the Shoals after college was a no brainer. Between the incredible music scene, the river, the creative culture, and amazing people—they were eager to be a part of the community and support the arts. It's a good thing they made that decision so that we can now enjoy Wildwood Tavern and Chicago Café, which have become an intricate part of downtown Florence, Alabama. If you haven’t stopped by you can find their doors open from 11:00am – 2:00am Monday thru Saturday and 4:00pm - 2:00am on Sundays. You will feel right at home.